Modern Artist or Visual Politician?-Dada (part 2)

Analysis of ‘Dada Seigt’ by Raoul Hausmann

Between 1916[1] and 1922[2] Dada artists made it their life’s mission to call other artists to arms and reject the notion of ‘art’.[3] At first glance one could describe the art produced by Dada artists as modern political art, which is not necessarily false. However, what should be the title of the individual who creates these visual political messages? Modern Artist or Visual Politician? The Dada artists, through the medium of photomontage, build their individual campaign by cutting and sticking visuals of their present society in order to draw the viewer’s eye to the flaws that they may have overlooked or chosen to ignore.[4] An example of a  piece, which is one of my personal favourites for its use of unapologetically brash symbolism, is ‘Dada Siegt’ by Raoul Hausmann, created in 1920 to promote Dadaism.[5]Raoul Hausmann

Hausmann, Raoul. Dada Siegt. 1920. Photomontage. private collection[6]

The title ‘Dada Siegt’ translates as ‘Dada Conquers’, thus establishing the campaign-like tone of the piece.[7] In this piece Hausmann demonstrates Dada’s influence over the world and calls others to join the movement; just like a politician calls the public to support his campaign. Hausmann’s piece is primarily narrative and incorporates brash narrative symbols in order to convey his message clearly. For example, the words ‘DADA’[8]  sprawled across the globe[9] indicates Hausmann’s belief that Dada would spread across the world and conquer the art world, and in turn man’s state of mind. Hausmann also stamps the words ‘DADA’[10] across the man’s brain, found in the foreground of the piece. This image is similar  to that of the globe both in appearance and message, stating the man’s brain has been conquered by the Dada movement.[11] Hausmann is explaining how Dada is not simply a movement that spreads across seas but is also a state of mind.[12] This is obvious when reading the Dadaist Manifesto as it says ‘…Dada is a state of mind that can be revealed in any conversation whatever, so that you are compelled to say: this man is a DADAIST- that man is not…’[13] This parallels with how you can sense where someone stands politically after having a conversation with them. In actuality the Dada movement was often described as a ‘club’[14] where people would meet to discuss movements and try to enlighten others on the subject. This ritual is similar to how political parties meet, including ‘The German Workers Party’ who met in beer halls around the same time as the Dadaists, later to be known as the Nazi party.

In the photomontage ‘Dada Siegt’ Hausmann incorporates the idea of Dada being a ‘club’ by setting the scene on a theatrical stage. The Dada club originated at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich[15], founded by Hugo Ball[16]. The Dada artists would meet at the Cabaret Voltaire to discuss philosophy and plan how they were to enlighten others in order to spread their movement.[17] This prompted both outsiders and members to see it as a ‘club’ rather than a movement. Furthermore, the ‘club’ setting helped make the movement more personal, which it had to be, as they were rejecting all other ways of life, thus leaving them isolated. The ideology of Dada was to mock materialistic lifestyles[18], nationalistic attitudes and upend bourgeois ideas; intensifying isolation.  In fact, the Dada artists were so opposed to bourgeois ideals that it wasn’t even in favour of itself; ‘Dada is anti-Dada.[19]

However, after pondering over the statement, ‘Dada is anti-Dada’, and referencing back to my titled question of ‘Modern Artist or Visual Politician’, it is difficult to change the Dada artist’s title from artist to that of a politician. Similarly to the politician the Dada artist lives by a manifesto. They fight to draw people’s attention to their policies and hold strong views against the lifestyles they deem corrupt or somehow less-than their own. However, the artist does not provide a solution for the ills that he or she highlights in their art. A section of the Dada Manifesto reads:

‘Blast the bloodless abstraction of expressionism! Blast the literary hollowheads and their theories for improving the world! For Dadaism in word and image, for all the Dada things that go on in the world! To be against the manifesto is to be a Dadaist!’[20]

The Dadaists condemn their own ways of life and the lives of others, concluding that to achieve ‘DADA’ you must first reject it. This notion makes little sense to the rational mind and provides no remedy for the society that they deem corrupt. On the other hand, a politician lives by the manifesto of his party and supplies ideas on how to make society ‘greater’ in order to secure the favour of the people. If a politician failed to produce evidence of calculated plans for his ‘path of action’ then they would fail to gain the people’s support, as the manifesto would appear to be weak or unattainable.

In ‘Dada Siegt’ there is no evidence of Hausmann supplying a conclusion for how Dada will take over the world and become key to man’s psyche, but states that it is an occurring phenomenon that will continue to spread. When analysing ‘Dada Siegt’ from this angle it leads the viewer to conclude that in this moment Hausmann is more of a social critic than a Visual Politician. However, Hausmann’s[21] lover, Hannah Höch could arguably be labelled a Visual Politician. Hannah Höch was a pioneer of feminism and used Dada as the fuel to drive gender issues into the limelight, as it was often overlooked by mainstream media. To promote her campaign Höch created photomontages that focused on the embedded gender issues of the portrayal of the idealized German woman. An example of one of these photomontages is ‘Da-Dandy, made in 1919, which I will analyse in my next blog. [22]

[1]Murray, Peter and Linda Murray. Dictionary of Art And Artists. New York: Praeger, 1966. Print. pg102

[2] Ibid, pg102

[3] Weston, Neville. Kaleidoscope Of Modern Art. London: Harrap, 1968. Print. pg115

[4] Murray, pg102

[5] “Avant-Garde, I: Dada Conquers! | Jacket2”. N.p., 2016. 13 August. 2016.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Kuenzli, Rudolf E. Dada. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2006. Print. pg183

[12] Ibid, pg183

[13] “Dadaist Manifesto By Tristan Tzara, Franz Jung, George Grosz, Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Gerhard Preisz, Raoul Hausmann, April 1918,2016. Web. 5 Oct. 2016

[14] Weston, pg115

[15] “Avant-Garde, I: Dada Conquers! | Jacket2”. N.p., 2016. 13 August. 2016.

[16] Le Pichon, Yann and Jean- Louis Ferrier. Art Of The 20Th Century. [Paris, France]: Editions du Chene, 1999. Print. pg166

[17] Lucie-Smith, Edward.Visual Arts In The Twentieth Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997. Print. pg102

[18] Weston, pg115

[19] “First German Dada Manifesto”. Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Oct. 2016.

[20] Ibid

[21]Dillon, Brian. “Hannah Höch: Art’s Original Punk”. the Guardian. N.p.,2014. Web. 13 August 2016

[22] “Hannah Höch | Da-Dandy (1919) | Artsy”. N.p., 2016. Web. 16 August. 2016.

Modern Artist or Visual Politician? – Dada (part 1)

Over the short period in which I have decided to openly pursue a career in art, I have been asked on a number of occasions to what, in my opinion, it means to be an artist. After the seemingly hundredth time of being asked this repetitive question I began to, and to my dismay, question both my future role as an artist and the role of past artists who I admire. An example of one of these being the artist Hannah Höch. I began to imagine myself in the future and compare my practice in the modern world to the work of past artists.

In this series of blogs, which will consist of six parts, I will debate over the argument of ‘whether the role we traditionally cast the artist in is appropriate when addressing the modern artist’. Furthermore, I will be using the Dada Movement as a case study in order to explore if an artist has ever successfully earned the right to an altered title. In the past the artwork produced by the artist has generally been more concerned with the depiction of beauty and the ideal, rather than having a dominant political agenda. This was a result of there being a larger emphasis on the appeasement of the patron.

However, since the beginning of the 20th century, artists have begun to prioritize the development of the individual style and the means to which they convey an emotional message. Therefore, the emphasis, which had previously been on the portrayal of the utopian world; like arcadia, now shifted to images that critiqued and portrayed the society of the present. It is these images with their intertwined messages that bring the artist’s title into question; Modern Artist or Visual Politician? The artist acts in the same manner as the politician in the sense that they are drawing the public’s attention to their ‘campaign’. A historic practice has been for governments to commission artists to create artwork that reflects the ideals of their political party. According to the definition of a politician in the Cambridge Dictionary; ‘a member of a government or law-making organization’[1], in the act of being commissioned the artist embodies the role of the politician as they are now an active member of the campaign. However, an artist can also embody the role of the visual politician by opposing a regime or a campaign. It is the latter from which Dadaism is stemmed.

The Dada movement was a political art movement that was at its pinnacle of popularity between the years 1916[2] and 1922[3]. Dada artists such as Hausmann and Höch all preached anti- art.[4] One of Dada’s preferred mediums of art was photomontage as it enabled the artist to draw from physical mementos of their everyday, and thus project a message that was consistent with their life experience.[5] This creates a clear contrast between Dada and other movements that ran alongside it such as Expressionism and later on Surrealism.[6] The Dada artist was unlike any artist beforehand as they were not only against other forms of art, that in their eyes may have appeared sycophantic or to be conforming to the time, but were also against their own creations.[7] This generates the question, what is the artist’s role in society? I was forced to confront this debate as how can one be called a politician or even an artist if they themselves do not believe in their own campaign?

[1] Dictionary, politician. “Politician Meaning In The Cambridge English Dictionary”. N.p., 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.

[2] Murray, Peter and Linda Murray. Dictionary of Art And Artists. New York: Praeger, 1966. Print. pg102

[3] Ibid, pg102

[4] Ibid, pg102

[5] Ibid, pg102

[6] Weston, Neville. Kaleidoscope Of Modern Art. London: Harrap, 1968.Print. pg116

[7]  Ibid, pg119